Overcharging of Foreigners at Thai National Parks
Since July 2000, Thailand is asking foreigners for THB 200 entrance fee to the National Parks.
This is 10 times the price of what locals pay.
At that time Bangkok Post printed an article, explaining that the National Parks are suffering from too many visitors. Increased entrance fees to a level that reduces tourism should both benefit the TAT and the National Parks. Further increases are planned.
If you ever visited a Thai National Park, you will know that there are 99% locals and it's surely not the foreigners who make noise, damage things, leave rubbish behind.
What eventually happens, is that Thai read the sign with the entrance fees, then talk amongst themselves: "These foreigners must really have a lot of money..". Now and then I'm asked if I could give them some, as I have so much.
I've sent an e-mail to Lonely Planet and put the Thai tourist board in copy. Read what TAT said.
How to avoid being overcharged
If your face is Asian, you have no problem.
Just hand over the regular entrance fee and take your ticket.
99% of visitors are locals and staff will not consider you a foreigner, rather a less talkative Thai.
If you are obviously caucasian (farang), it is more tricky.
Tell them that you have not so much money and argue a bit, maybe it works. If you happen to have a work permit, this can help as well. Ask local visitors if they would want to pay THB 180 for you, so that you can get in for THB 20. Some people actually will pay for you and hence the unfairness is contained amongst the Thai. If all that doesn't work, read on:
Sarika Waterfall, Nakhorn Nayok
No way to bargain for the entrance fee, but you can most likely avoid it, if you enter by walking in the stream from behind the first parking lot. I was told that staff was watching that gap, but few people attempt such tricks, and actually none watches. Knowing that Thai hardly ever bother about punishment, you don't have to fear much.
Parking a car at Sarika WF is B30 at any of the two carparks. There are restaurants around the parking lots. Construction of modern tourist facilities (more restaurants, souvenir shops, toilets, ..) is proceeding.
Sarika Waterfall is always great, during both dry and rainy season. Can almost say it is spectacular, dropping from great hight. Still , it is accessible. There are 2 large pools for swimming, the higher one being the quieter and larger one.
Effort seems to be put to keep the trails clean, but further up, there's quite a lot of broken glass.
From below where all the restaurants are, one gets the Kodak-view of the complete thing. The top can be reached by a safe climb thru forest, rewarding with a scenic view of the valley. From there, a trail goes on (to who-knows-where, go around the pool on the left side and follow the water).
Nearby free alternatives are: Nang Rong (going up through the falls is dangerous in the rainy season, use the trail on the left), Lanrak (it has a big fun waterslide but often not enough water).
Kaeng Wung Sai (rapids), Khao Yai NP
Now there's a sign that reads (in slightly wrong English) "Entrance Fee for Foreigner B200". They quote B20 for Thais.
I asked if I could enter for B40. They said it was B200 per falang. I turned the car around and before I left, I asked again why not B40, still better than if I just go away. Eventually, we agreed on B50.
It is as well possible to enter at night, when none is at the checkpoint. Camping is possible in several spots.
There might as well be a way to bypass the checkpoint at any time of the day, look for a farm towards the left.
Kaeng Wung Sai is popular for rafting. In the rainy season, the river was wide, shallow and swift, with several rapids and too dangerous for my personal taste. Rafters wear helmets and life vests.
Rafting in a rubber boat with several people is B500 per person. The launchpoint is about 2 km walk upstream along the river. Most people are spectators who come to take photos. Rafters are not so many.
Near the launchpoint, people play in the flooded area amongst the trees. The water is fast-flowing, but there are plenty of trees to hold on to.
Erawan Waterfall, Kanchanaburi
This is a very popular destination, and I worked out some backdoors that will get you in for free.
These backdoors are just as useful when you arrive late and want to spend the night at the camping, but staff tells you to come back tomorrow as the park is closed.
This way you get in faster than thru the official entrance, but you have to cross the river. It works any time. Refer to attached map:
- Coming from Kanchanaburi, ask to be let off the bus / stop your car at Phungen Resort or Erawan Chalet. These are little resorts with floating houses on the eastern side of the river. They typically rent out a 2-bed room for B250 / night.
- Ask at the resort to be brought across the river, to the jetty near the camping of Erawan Waterfall. You can just as well swim, the distance is almost nothing and the river is not flowing too fast. Swimming is best done from Erawan Chalet, bear a bit right, you can see the jetty on the other side.
- The jetty, I called it "JETTY1" on my map, has a little ladder so you can easily get out of the water. Follow the red trail (first into the camping area, pass the toilets on the left side, then exit the camping across the bridge.
- Following the trail on the map / the signs to step 1 of the waterfall, you won't pass any checkpoint and don't have to buy a ticket.
- I suggest you avoid bringing food and drink (or hide it in your rucksack), as the officers at level 3 will not allow you to carry it beyond this level, so in the course of asking you to store it with them, they may ask to see your ticket (though in 3 times, they never asked to see my ticket).
This way requires no swimming but some more talking. You should come by car and best in the late evening to make this work. A flashlight is useful.
- Drive the official road to the car park, where you will be stopped at the entrance gate.
- You could be told that the waterfall is now closed and you have to come back tomorrow, or you may be asked for B200 entrance fee.
- Say that you don't go to the waterfall, but stay at the house-boat on the river or that you rented a bungalow in that same area. Say that all your friends and family and whoever is already there and you just come back from a trip to town, and you left your ticket in the houseboat, and your aunt is very sick, and....
They will let you go in.
- Near the parking lot, follow the sign to the bungalows (turn left).
- If you miss the turnoff and run into the checkpoint, pretend to be lost and ask for the way to the bungalows. Don't attempt to get past these folks into the park, they will insist that you get a ticket.
- Park your car near any of the bungalows, none is expecting a particular car to park there.
- Since it is late at night, you have to spend the night somewhere. You can either rent a room on the houseboat (HBOAT on my map, ask someone in the little village that you have to pass), you can sleep in the car, or you can walk to the camping and pitch your tent.
- To reach the camping (and from there the waterfall), go thru the little village a few meters South of the bungalows, continue on a little trail that leads further South from the end of the bitumen road. Cross a simple bridge (watch it !) and you are there. This trail is short and nicely gets you around the checkpoint.
Erawan waterfall is nice to look at and just as good for swimming, best done early in the morning, before the pools get crowded with visitors. Go up at 7 am and you can be back by 10 am. Getting out is easy, you can take the official way, no check. Across the river however, it's a lot faster.
Huay Khamin / Mae Khamin Waterfall, Kanchanaburi
The smoothest way to get in is from the North:
Access by the way to Si Sawat, then follow the signs to the ferry. This will carry you over the reservoir. From there, follow the signs to the restaurant (from the ferry up the hill, turn left at the first junction, then straight).
When you arrive after sunset, the little checkpoint on the right side of the road will not be manned any more. You just walk in, can freely walk around, eat at the nice restaurant, chat with the rangers, but don't try to buy a camping permit, as they will ask you for your entrance ticket and sell you one for THB 200.
Just pitch your tent on the lawn near the (great-sounding and impressive-looking) waterfall and should you ever be asked to buy an entrance ticket, then say you have no money.
There is an alternative access route from the South, starting at Erawan Waterfall / Srinakarin Dam, passing Phra Tat Cave. Public transport uses this route.
Coming from the South, there's no way to avoid the checkpoint and my only way to get in was refusing to pay and insisting to go in. After half hour of hanging around there, after having them call someone who speaks a little English ("you pay money Baht songloi speak thai)", they eventually concluded that I have not enough money and let me go in for free. T'was a bit weird, all the time Bangkok folks with their shiny SUVs, mega camping equipment, nice clothes and ringing handphones trickle in, while there's a poor farang on a bicycle who is asked to pay B200.
A third way in is by boat from Si Sawat, to a jetty near the headquarter of the park. A small boat (kayak) can as well go into the mouth of the stream that runs from the waterfall, where it's rather easy to hide it. A trail leads away from the water and past a checkpoint, later at night often unattended. Walk straight up, past the lower camping site and stay on the trail that climbs along the waterfall. You will reach the upper camping site without any more checkpoints.
Huay Mae Khamin Waterfall is the nicest in Kanchanaburi. You get a spectacular view with lots of water, in the rainy season it is brown from soil. There are several places to bathe and quite a bit of opportunity to walk. A long part of the way up along the fall / stream is fit for mountainbikes.
The Huay Khamin camping is the best I know. The sound of the nearby waterfall suppresses noise that some visitors make, the restaurant is not bad, there are slideshows in the evening, some rangers speak a bit of English and most visitors are considerate towards others and drinking is less common. The area is very clean, too.
Note: Entering the National Parks without paying THB200 is illegal for a foreigner. Theoretically it could happen that someone gives you trouble for the attempt. If you find yourself confronted with some real nasty park officials, don't argue. They might even not understand the English words that you speak. Pay or leave before something bad happens.